dkSez : : : : : : Don Kahle's blog

Quips, queries, and querulous quibbles from the quirky mind of Don Kahle

Why do people say 'after dark' when what they mean is 'during dark'? After dark would be when it's light again, right? * There are 10 types of people in this world -- those who read binary, and those who don't. * I'm rethinking the whole brown rice thing. What if it's just more white liberal self-hatred? Whole wheat, honey, unbleached flour. All better. Sez who? * Eugene should be HQ for White People for Diversity. We'll fight for diversity to be included in books, which is where we know to look for it. * Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day, but give a man a pillow, and he'll dream of steak. * What can you say about a state that puts the town of North Bend 225 miles southwest of Bend? We rely on visitors for entertainment.

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Egan Shows What Eugene is Made Of

January 13th, 2017 · No Comments

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I used to tell people if they had only one hour in Eugene, they should attend the Eugene Celebration parade. In 60 minutes, anyone could see how this city moves through the issues that animate its people.

Time marches on, even if the Eugene Celebration parade no longer does. Some of us are moving a little more slowly now, especially when a walk to the mailbox begins to look like a failed audition for the Ice Capades. Thanks in part to our early spate of brutal winter nights, I have a new introductory Eugene hour to recommend.

If you want to know what this city is made of, volunteer at any of the nine Thomas Egan Warming Centers. In one hour, you’ll come to know the place and its people. Unlike the parade, the Egan Warming Centers are not set up for passive observers. You’ll have to apply to volunteer at, attend a short training session, and sign up for a shift. Each step is necessary and worth the trouble.

The centers are spread around the city, mostly in churches, including two in Springfield. If you sign up for the site closest to your home, chances are you’ll see some of your neighbors working in the kitchen, folding blankets, tending to sore feet, or chatting with guests. Think of the guests as your neighbors without addresses.

There is so much to love about Egan, beginning with the name. Maj. Thomas Egan died on the street here eight years ago. His tragedy mobilized a community response. Our brains are not wired to focus on trends or statistics. Particulars focus our attention and strengthen our resolve. Tom Egan is the name we’ve given that commitment. We have former mayors who haven’t been honored as deeply.

Egan Warming Centers activate when overnight temperatures are expected to fall below 30 degrees. We’ve activated already this season as many nights as some entire winters. Each night of activation requires a small army of volunteers. The smallest site has space for 40 guests, requiring nearly as many volunteers.

The program could have been designed to use fewer volunteers, but the surplus is strategic. There’s time to chat during most three-hour shifts, and almost no concern that anyone will finish their turn feeling overwhelmed or dispirited. Even if only for a few hours, you can feel the tide of homeless suffering receding.

Many sites have exactly zero paid staff on the premises. Volunteer leaders have emerged. The egalitarian spirit shapes the mood of the room. Some guests come in from the cold feeling angry at the world and the systems that run it. It helps when nobody in the room has been forced to be there. “The Man” is nowhere to be found.

One young man told me I must be brave, if I was heading out in the morning with only my two layers and a scarf. I told him I had only a few blocks to walk. We laughed for a moment that guests and volunteers look alike, but that’s exactly as it should be. His buddy shook his head, then nodded, “We’re all God’s children.” I couldn’t have said it better.

The need is always great but the work is often easy. I’ve asked a dozen volunteers how they got involved. Most were invited or enticed by a friend. Someone they knew was already involved or interested, and so they followed.

There’s nothing surprising about that. We’re social creatures. Here is where we can build on the success we’re already enjoying. By simply “buddying up” we can double the effectiveness of the Egan Warming Center’s outreach.

If you’re already a volunteer, think about who you can invite to give it a try. If you’ve been thinking about doing the training, mention it to somebody you don’t see often enough and ask them to join you. Next time you’ve served a shift and enjoyed getting to know another volunteer, conspire to work together again.

The work we do takes us to who we become. As people and as a city, nobody travels in this parade alone. We’re all God’s children.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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AAB – Availing Abundance

January 9th, 2017 · No Comments

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My parents bought gasoline differently. A few years ago, I resolved to favor my father’s way. I learned a lot as I operated on my modus operandi. This year, I’m planning to push myself further in his direction.

Dad had his routine. Late every Saturday afternoon, he would pull into the same station, where they offered a free newspaper with every fill-up. He knew if he got there mid-afternoon, they’d have the early edition of the Sunday paper — a bigger paper, but the same deal. From my shotgun seat, I’d hear him banter about politics with the proprietor.

Then he would head to the liquor store. My memory suggests he bought the same things every week: Slim Jims, Beer Nuts, and a 12-cent comic book for me. He probably bought liquor too. I remember him drinking it, but not buying it. The comic book distraction must have worked as intended.

My mother, on the other hand, bought gas only when the fuel gauge demanded it, and then only a few dollars at a time. She would wait until the last possible opportunity, producing panic, usually toting rambunctious children in a station wagon without seat belts.

When parents model such competing life strategies, adulthood may begin with confusion and uncertainty. I know mine did. Eventually, those conflicting models showed me that I have more choices in life than I know how to number. I’ve tried to make sense of how my parents’ choices made sense to them.

My father grew up with poor but generous parents. They were itinerant machinists. They often moved to stay employed, including a short stint in Eugene and then Portland during World War II. Grandma sewed army boots. Grandpa worked in the shipyards.

They gave whatever they had. Grandpa built us a playhouse that lasted forever. I still have the comically shaped blanket that Grandma crocheted for Dad beside his deathbed. Every day in the hospital, he’d feel chilled and tell her the same thing: “Make it longer.”

My mother’s upbringing was very different. She grew up in a stately house, an annual stop on the suburban garden club tour. Her father traveled often and worked long hours as an accountant. Unfortunately, his work values followed him home. He was calculating and parsimonious with his affections.

He taught me to swim with my eyes open by throwing nickels into a hotel pool, but only after he learned pennies wouldn’t motivate a ten-year-old. He claimed they were quarters and chuckled when I discovered his ruse.

And so my parents navigated their world very differently. Mom answered to the fuel gauge. Dad watched the calendar. “What’s left?” versus “What’s next?” Did my parents argue about their differing lifestyles? I don’t remember. I do know we had the first two-car garage in the neighborhood.

I no longer buy gas only when I absolutely need it. This year I will survey other tanks that I’m filling only they are nearly empty, and try to change my approach. I believe abundance is more available than my awareness tells me, and I’ve devised a way to test it.

I will start each week with a small sum of money in my pocket, to be used for things that I don’t feel like I need. I decided I could spare a couple thousand dollars for this experiment — $40 per week. The amount matters less than the intent — to spend it in ways that don’t feel “normal” or “right” to me.

If my hypothesis is correct, after a year, I won’t wish I had that $2,000 back. I will have discovered new things that I enjoy but never tried because my fear disguised itself as frugality. I may better understand why others buy things that I don’t, after trying it alongside them. I’ll bet I won’t feel like the money was wasted, even though that was my expressed intent.

The abundance that surrounds me doesn’t always feel available to me, but maybe that’s less about the abundance and more about my ability to avail it. With a year practice, I may get better at it.


Don Kahle ( blogs

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Diversity is Not a Pizza

January 9th, 2017 · No Comments

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We love diversity. We love seeing it celebrated on our bumpers. But we’re continually frustrated that the groups where we spend our time are not sufficiently diverse. We’re constantly wondering, often aloud, what it would take to get more people not like us to come to wherever it is that we are. We wish for more diversity in our workplace, in our places of worship, among our leaders, or in our favorite social groups.

But here’s the thing we fail to understand. We’re mystified how to more effectively invite people whose skin color or income level or political persuasion does not match ours. We hope somebody can come up with a plan that will fix this problem, which we congratulate ourselves for recognizing, and then we wait.

But diversity is not a pizza. It will not be delivered when you find yourself craving it. Like many good things (including pizza), it should be carried out by those who value it. Expecting diversity to come to you is asking others to work harder at something because you want it. That’s not only illogical, it’s unfair.

Try this instead. Go where they are. Yes, you may feel awkward. You may stand out. You may worry that others are wondering why you’re there, or noticing how you don’t fit in. That’s exactly the point.

If you wish there were more young people caring about your favorite topic, go to where young people meet. If you wish you could better understand what the phrase “Black Lives Matter” means to those who are black, go to a local NAACP meeting. If income inequality is your gravest concern, go where your income is the exception and not the rule. If you think only broadened political views can bridge what divides us, go to the other side.

And listen. Listen first to your own discomfort to better understand why “they” have been so reluctant to join “us.” Listen to their concerns. Notice where their assumptions are different from your own. Feel yourself being stretched, as difficult as it is.

If you don’t hurry out the door, chances are good that somebody will approach you. They may start with suspicion, because we’re wired to respond to aberrations of any sort with questions about safety first. Once those needs are met, genuine dialogue can begin.

When I’m in Washington, D.C., I regularly attend the Progress For Christ Baptist Church. I’ve never seen another Caucasian there, but I’ve seen an 8-year-old drummer, a choir of five singing like 50, hour-long sermons, and a small congregation intent on sharing everything they have — not just what they can spare.

Rev. Dr. John D. Chaplin’s Mothers Day sermon has stayed with me for years, about how the deliberate rending of African-American families for over a century cannot be expected to heal quickly. “Whose you are” comes before “who you are.”

We must begin with who we are. Each of us will congregate with those who are like us, unless we expressly intend something different. That’s hard work and it’s getting harder.

Former U.S. Congressman Les AuCoin noticed decades ago that the word “community” was being co-opted by identity politics. A word that represents inclusion has been inverted to express exclusion. It’s often now synonymous with “interest group.”

Today we have the LGBT community, the business community, the environmentalist community, the bicyclist-rights community, and dozens more. What we’ve lost is the community community.

It’s time to rebuild that. It can begin with each of us venturing into unfamiliar territory to meet others where they are not in the minority, but we are. We can stop wanting diversity and start being diversity. The lessons will surprise you.

I once helped out at a soup kitchen, where a homeless man confided in me that he prefers winters to summers because his scavenged food lasted longer with “God’s refrigeration.” Yes, like that.

Something akin to enjoyment will start lapping at your edges, washing away some of the discomfort. Joy follows discovery, as your world gets larger and less fearsome. And that’s worth celebrating.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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Festive Year-End Fripperies

January 9th, 2017 · No Comments

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Festive Fifth Friday Footnotes, Follow-ups and Far-Flung Fripperies:

  • Nostalgia keeps everything the same as it never was.
  • Life is a wet soap bar. The surest way to lose your grip is to hold it too tightly.
  • When banks gave us branded pens to use and keep instead of chaining them to the counter, the world got more confusing.
  • Peace requires courage.
  • Our year-end holidays make surprisingly little use of cheese, unless you count the Christmas carol, “A Whey In The Manger.”
  • Is there a word for twitching a sugar packet back and forth between thumb and forefinger before opening?
  • When the 2016 Ice Storm cut power, it prevented many housebound families from binge-watching anything but the weather and one another.
  • Envy is the hidden force behind most unhappiness.
  • Diversity is not a pizza. You cannot wait for it to be delivered. It must be “carried out” by those who want it.
  • I learned a new word: “innumerate.” I can’t count the number of times I’ll be using it.
  • Can we wish “godslow” for ponderers, as we wish “godspeed” for travelers?
  • People tell you to live in the present, but that’s only because living in the future perfect will have been so much harder. I feel tense just thinking about it.
  • If Republicans want to bring back internment camps, the troublemakers may have already done that work for them. Most liberals have corralled themselves into something we like to call “cities.”
  • Our university’s two benevolent PKs should give Duck football coach Willie Taggart his own helicopter. Landing on high school football fields would turn heads, even if he’s not allowed to offer a ride home to the prized recruits he visits.
  • When Trump flew into the White House, I blamed the Chicago Cubs. Before they won the World Series, pigs couldn’t do that.
  • Practical jokes are usually one or the other.
  • If Greater Eugene Inc. needs a marketing and recruitment slogan, they could do worse than, “Everything’s easier here.”
  • Champagne claims to be its own category, distinct from other sparkling wines. Guinness could and should do the same.
  • United States seems to have hit a limit. We just don’t know whether it’s biological, intellectual, or social/political.
  • Maybe democracy and antibiotics don’t mix. We didn’t worry about herd mentality when the herd was continually culled. We respected our elders because they had defied the odds.
  • If Trump’s inner dramas play out as greed versus vanity, root for vanity.
  • I’ve avoided success, putting the “shun” in “congratulation.”
  • The Irish have the best comfort foods.
  • Put your bathroom scale in front of the fridge. Shift your attention from effect to cause.
  • The Electoral College elegantly promoted this young nation’s two sources of wealth and security — its people and its land. (Slaves were regrettably counted as the latter.)
  • Devotion can be spread without being thinned.
  • We don’t know what 2% milk is. “Half the fat” would tell us.
  • We use antiperspirant even on days when we have no intention to perspire.
  • When the sign says “This Door Must Remain Closed At All Times,” why not just attach a handle to the wall?
  • Partners should distinguish whether a dispute comes down to “you versus me” or “us versus not-us.”
  • Who goes to a currency exchange to exchange currency?
  • While we weren’t watching, Black Friday took over the entire month of November.
  • Part of our morning caffeine routine is really about calibration. Getting something “just right” gives us assurance about the day ahead.
  • Of all our nation’s perils, the loss of meaningful work frightens me most.
  • I’m rethinking whether gossip is always bad. Oftentimes, it seems an excess of otherwise useful and helpful habits.
  • What the heck is an organizational “bureau?” Besides the FBI, are there others?
  • Destination weddings give couples who have been living together a way to invite their friends to the honeymoon.
  • Fire escapes are cool.
  • How long before we all feel a need for luggage with all-terrain tires?
  • Why doesn’t every old person eventually move to the West Coast, where all the awards shows and most national sporting events are over before 9 PM?
  • Shoe stores don’t serve the barefoot anymore.
  • Mattress. Firm. Price. (Combine ingredients to make your own frippery.)
  • Detractors use historic references to insist that blackface is abhorrent. By that measure, the labels “gay” and “black” should be disallowed.
  • What percentage of your conversation topics concern what you’ve read or watched or heard others saying? How much do you talk about what you thought or did or saw yourself?
  • Sometimes I can be wrong with a capital R.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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Ice Storm Wasn’t Extreme; It Was Precise

December 23rd, 2016 · No Comments

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I feel just a tiny bit responsible for our 2016 Ice Storm, since I dared winter — in print! — to show us something more than the “meh” weather we’d been tolerating in early December. To those who lost power for days or longer, had their roof or car punctured with the pointy sticks of nature, or slipped and fell on the ever-present ice, I’m sorry.

But to the weather itself, I say “Bravo!”

I’m not a fan of the cliché, but what we saw last week was very close to a perfect storm — perfect, as in precise. This storm was not the coldest, the deepest, the earliest, or the longest. The havoc it wreaked hit all sorts of extremes. The storm itself hit the magnificent middle, the hard-way half-way, the terrible ‘tween. This was a Goldilocks Storm.

Had it been one degree colder, we’d have gotten snow. One degree warmer, it would have been sleet. Either way, we wouldn’t still be talking about it. We wouldn’t have lost thousands of trees, and there wouldn’t be thousands of local residents now heading into their second week without power.

Everyone who could recharge their phones spent hours last week snapping photographs and posting them to Facebook. Glass tendrils extending tree branches or “dripping” from power lines regularly extended six inches. The ice casing over branches was routinely an inch thick.

Disney could not have designed a more compelling crystal city, but this one was real. The beauty was awesome, but think about the physics of it.

A drop of rain hits a power line. It moves laterally no more than a few inches. Then it begins to drip down an already formed icicle, aiming to wet the ground below. But before it reaches the end of the icy stalactite, it turns solid — adding length and weight to the emerging ice sculpture.

It all started with a not-uncommon weather inversion. Cold air lay on the valley floor with warm air above it. If the layers had been reversed, with the cold air above, it would have been hail. Without an inversion, it would have been snow (cold) or rain (warm) — either way, no big deal.

The precipitation fell exactly in the middle. The H2O started warm enough — but just barely — to fall as rain, then turned to ice after touching a cable or branch and before falling to the ground. That’s precise, or if you prefer, perfect. Gravity dueled with molecular cohesion, and gravity lost. (Water molecules are strongly cohesive because of their tetrahedral configuration, which is why liquids can extend above the brim of a glass without spilling over.)

Those icicles form best and longest when that liquid-to-liquid bonding occurs just long enough for the cold to turn it solid. That’s precision and it’s awesome. Colder, snow or hail; warmer, rain or sleet. But here we are. We can seek shelter, but trees are not so lucky.

The encasing ice adds enormous weight to each branch on each tree. Excepting the infirm, the ones that suffer most are those that extend outward from the trunk, parallel to the ground. I’m gonna say these frozen branches weigh up to ten times their normal weight. (I don’t know the exact physics here, so I used a round number and the word “gonna.”)

And then (no, we’re not done yet), the temperature stayed cold, and gravity staged its comeback. Mother Nature became a cruel yoga instructor: “… and HOLD (for five days). Feel the burn!” Those poor trees struggled mightily to keep their shape. You know you’ve lived in Oregon long enough when you start to see storms from the trees’ perspective.

Only one thing could have made this storm worse — some whipping wind to accompany the icy cold. If lateral force had been added, even more trees would have lost their branches or upended their roots. So, sorry, 2016, yours was not a “perfect storm,” but close.

Our temperate climate won’t hit the attention-grabbing extremes seen in other parts of the country. That’s no excuse not to be awed by nature’s power and precision. We’re wired to notice the extremes, but there’s another magnificence in clear view — smack dab in the middle.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at Kahle’s challenge to “meh” winter can be found here:

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Putting the Flyer in Radio Flyer™

December 16th, 2016 · No Comments

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The Eugene Airport will fall just shy of a million passengers served in 2016. If the Ducks had landed in a warm-weather football bowl game, that boost may have taken EUG into that prized seventh digit. It won’t happen this year, but as the football team has been saying since Halloween, there’s always next year.

Anyone who spends a lot of time in airports can tell you what a treasure we have on our northwest outskirts. If you know what you’re doing, you can avoid the industrial stretches of Highway 99, so that visitors get a more bucolic first impression of our area. (Willie Taggart, if you haven’t learned these back roads to steer recruits and their families through farmland, call me.)

The airport will take its next quantum leap when they get a nibble on the bait of an adjoining conference hotel. That hasn’t happened yet, but there’s always next year. In the meantime, we should appreciate what we have. Which is a wonderfully well designed, compact, accessible airport.

I don’t know who to thank for the two-story gate structure. If there’s a better escalator-centric design for any structure in the world, I’d be happy to know about it. That single innovation prevents the plague that visits every other airport I can think of — sprawl.

Most airports spread themselves out so generously, a typical passenger may have to walk the length of a 747’s runway to get from the ticket counter to their departure gate. Connecting flights in any of these airports require passengers to walk so far they should be awarded a half-marathon T-shirt.

Between any two points, there’s nothing in between except thousands of people watching you and wondering whether you’ll make it, wherever and whatever “it” may be. And then when you arrive, assuming you have any spare time, you become one of the geometrically impossible middle people, watching others hurrying to their endpoints, wondering whether they will make it, wherever and whatever “it” may be.

It’s as if we’re all living inside a spirograph of dashes between endpoints. Each of us draws the straightest line we can, but we know it must somehow be less or different than that. It would add some comfort if we knew that our curves and others’ combined into some sort of picture that delights somebody somewhere.

Alas, we can’t be sure of that. Meantime, I have a backup plan to propose.

We should color our ubiquitous rollerbags red, and paint black circles on the sides. We then should add a long metal bar with a handle at the end, that can be tucked into the bag when hoisting it into the overhead compartment.

Do you see where I’m going with this? If not, you’ll be like the thousands who will be watching you tow this red roller through airports.

I’d recommend emblazoning these red bags with a Radio Flyer™ logo, except for the copyright infringement. This is in fact what we’re all doing. Beneath our parading self-importance, we’re silently amazed that we can carry so much stuff — so much important stuff! — around with us. That quiet comfort that we have everything we need traces itself back to our third-grade selves.

We’re all pulling our wagons to feel important. And for those moments when we’re unsure, that stuff in the wagon puts the importance back. Those scary fourth-graders have nothing on us!

Nobody says a word to anybody they don’t know in an airport. Yet it’s the safest social setting most people ever inhabit. Between gate and terminal, it’s a lock-down. Nobody got in without being screened for identity and weapons. Nobody can get out without passing another security checkpoint.

Everybody’s safe — or trapped. Either way, we should have an easier time talking to one another. An airport terminal is really a stuck elevator without the claustrophobia. Red wagon rollerbags could be the joke that gets people talking to strangers.

Many of us remember the awe we felt the first time we flew. Radio Flyer™ flying could invite us and others back to that childlike wonder.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs

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Stuffing Stockings Without Stuff

December 16th, 2016 · No Comments

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Tiffany’s needed a slogan that would entice shoppers to buy its luxury goods as gifts. One of their first gift suggestions “For The Man Who Has Everything” was a sterling silver telephone. They didn’t sell many of those telephones in 1956, but the phrase caught on.

Soon mink beer-can openers were being sold at corner bottle shops. A scrap of mink was glued to an ordinary bottle opener and voila, your church key gained you entry into the upper class. It proclaimed to your drinking buddies that meeting basic needs was no longer a concern.

What started as a novel argument for buying stuff that nobody needs has slowly become our way of life and the favored strategy for gift-buying. The Man Who Has Everything is now most of us most of the time. Come January, ads will be promoting storage containers and closet organizers.

The Tiffany’s slogan has been necessarily updated by deadpan comedian Steven Wright, who observed, “You can’t have everything. Where would you put it?”

Who among us needs one more sweater? Besides, which size would we hope to receive? The size we are on Christmas morning, or the size we dream of being before spring leaves? No, buying things is no longer the best strategy. We all have silvery phones in our pockets now.

So here are a few ideas that won’t add more stuff to somebody’s life, but also are things that may not have thought to buy themselves.

Sharpen their kitchen knives. My son does this and it’s a brilliant strategy. He invested less than $100 on his equipment, taught himself the technique, and now he makes his rounds on holidays. Even better, he works his magic a few days before the manic cooking hits high gear. If that skill doesn’t interest you, there are services that will sharpen your blades, sometimes while you wait. If you’d rather avoid sharp objects, organize the drawer or cupboard where they store tea for guests. I guarantee it’s overflowing.

Join them to a civic organization. Many local organizations benefit from modest membership fees that sustain their services. Eugene and Springfield have City Clubs. The League of United Latin American Citizens, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and the League of Women Voters welcome members beyond the gender, race or ethnicity in their names. A gift membership might prompt them to attend some meetings, or it may simply give them a sense of connectedness to a cause that concerns them.

Support the arts on their behalf. Many of our arts organizations similarly have members or “friends.” Some get priority seating perks or special invitations to opening night festivities. Whether their interest is galleries, music, theatre, or ballet, local choices abound.

Don’t overlook what Portland or Ashland may have to offer. An out-of-town affiliation to a museum or an arts organization may entice a little travel. That little nudge might go a long way, especially if you also buy a membership for yourself so you can plan to attend events together.

Sometimes getting out of town is what matters most to people. AirBNB and many hotel chains offer gift certificates. If overnights are not so easy, an annual parking pass for all Oregon state parks is available at REI and other locations. Who wouldn’t welcome a gentle reminder that there’s a world outside, waiting to be explored?

Food is always front and center at every holiday, but not all food gifts contain actual calories. Instead of a fruitcake, there are a few local cooking classes, or wild mushroom hunting guides. There’s also a local chapter for the Slow Food Movement.

Forget the twelve days of Christmas, and think about twelve monthly gifts. Hop on the Internet and you can find a local purveyor offering a new wine every month. I found local “month club” options for beer, coffee, cheese, meat, plants and soap. Other sites that will do the same with socks, bacon, bagels, barbecue sauce and more.

None of the options I’ve listed above will add to anyone’s closet, unless they hoard socks.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at Kahle finished this column by candlelight, because the ice storm gave him exactly what he asked for last week.

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Making Comes Before Greatness

December 9th, 2016 · No Comments

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What if we’ve been misunderstanding Donald Trump’s campaign slogan and what it means to his supporters? We’ve focused on “great” because we’ve become an adjectival people. We lack substance and avoid movement. Nouns and verbs require more commitment than a few selected superlatives.

We’ve wondered aloud when we last were great, how we lost our greatness, and how we’ll know when we’ve gotten it back. We also worry whether the guy in charge can give us more than a red hat, but maybe that’s selling him and his slogan short.

Maybe “Make America Great Again” and its almost-quaint precursor “Made in America” is less about jobs and income and more about pride and self-reliance. “Making” is maybe what matters most.

If America had more makers, according to the formula, there’d be fewer takers. But making what? That’s what we don’t know. To hear the president-elect’s trumpeted claims, there will be a few more cars made in North Carolina and a few more air conditioners made in Indiana. But that’s not a national strategy, as even his supporters admit.

It’s also not a solution that matches the problem. As many have pointed out, manufacturing jobs are being lost faster to automation than to offshoring. I grew up believing only the rich could buy boneless chicken breasts. We can thank some clever machinery for changing that.

Work will use more machines and fewer people and there’s nothing we can do about it. Once 3D printers become as common as microwaves, we’ll be making things at home that we always needed a manufacturer to do for us. That revolution is still a ways away, but there’s no doubt it’s coming — and probably sooner than most people think.

Manufacturing jobs created the middle class in America, but even if we can lure some of those jobs back, they won’t be staying for long. Our only hope in the long run is to invent more things for more people to do, and to give them the training to do them.

Making things gives people a deep sense of satisfaction. The roots of satisfaction push upward into stems of confidence, which can then flower into ambition. History has shown when Americans become ambitious, greatness takes care of itself.

So how can this or any other president get more Americans making more things? President Obama reportedly asked Apple’s Steve Jobs exactly that. The president got a rebuke more than an answer: “Those jobs are not coming back!”

Corporations have been unwilling to bring their profits back to America, much less their manufacturing jobs. Economic pressures to use inexpensive labor are simply too great for any political force to counteract. Faced with that reality, Trump has threatened tariffs and other penalties against companies that refuse his overtures.

Economists of every stripe warn that any trade war could collapse the world economy and spare no nation, including ours. But what if there were a way to entice manufacturers without bribing or threatening to punish them? We may have an opportunity here that no one could have predicted, using Trump’s unique skills.

Trump claims to have built many significant structures that are instantly recognizable around the world. In fact, his foremost achievement has been just one thing that he has undeniably built — his brand.

If our brander-in-chief made it one of his chief economic goals, he could revive “Made in America” and buy us the time to do what his slogan promised, without a trade war or corporate arm-twisting.

Rather than asking Apple to make their iPhones in America, Trump could ask that they make some of their iPhones here, but with two significant differences. The locally made phones would have an American flag embossed into the case, and the price would reflect its higher labor costs.

The challenge then would be on President Trump to convince Americans that the extra cost of locally sourced goods is worth the prestige that the consumer’s choice carries. Luxury brands have been built on less, and successfully so.

Will Americans pay more to keep their neighbors employed? If not, at least we will have learned that lesson.


Don Kahle ( blogs here.

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Give Us Winter, Eugene!

December 9th, 2016 · No Comments

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Eugene, you know I love you for your weather.

I was first attracted to the strong shoulders of your seasons. Each spring brings slow surprises, and fall seems to furl forever. Summer’s always better than we deserve and winters often flee before we know it. I chose you because you have more weather than any place else I know.

Who can scatter their showers better than you? Your summer squalls can cover half a block. Rainbows are never out of season here. I figure on most days, you give us three days’ worth of weather. That’s like living to be 100 before we hit middle age. And I’m not even counting the weather we ward away with umbrellas we carry but don’t use.

I love it when others complain about our weather. It keeps the secret hidden and the population down. Where else can people see you as a hero because you look good in gray? But lately, how can I put this gently? They’ve not been your best days.

Usually you’re better than this. When you’re cold, you’re clear; and when you’re wet, you’re warm. But several days in the past couple of weeks have been neither this nor that. Not quite cold and not quite rainy — and yet, too much of both.

Will it snow? Will it rain? Will it freeze? “Maybe” is a good answer only when it hasn’t happened yet. Too many days recently have earned a “maybe” after the fact. How did the steps get damp? Did I forget some layer that I should have worn?

Those few days have been not quite anything. Is that rain or is moisture condensing on me like a beer bottle in summer? Is that the sun, or did somebody spill some yellow that fell the wrong direction? It’s not quite clear. I don’t know where I stand.

I’ve never been good with the intermittent wiper settings of life. As a child, I wondered why anyone would ever use the “low” setting on a fan. Medium salsa always feels like a compromise. Sleeves can be sometimes rolled up and so they should.

Friends complain about your June gloom — those few days when summer gets shoved back into the future tense. Others dislike the teasingly summery days you drop into March most years. I tell them they don’t understand you, that you’re at your best when you keep everyone guessing.

But these recent days of “Meh” don’t keep people guessing. What do you say about a day that’s not quite anything? I’m content not knowing what weather you’ll bring today or tomorrow. Not knowing what we got yesterday is harder for me to take.

Kitchen blenders announce loudly that the indistinct is coming. These days have felt like life in a blender — but without the thunder. When everything’s a compromise, nobody ever gets what they want. We all want to feel like a winner, at least once in a while.

I love your winters best of all. The rain, the cold, the wind! I like them best when they come separately, I must admit. But then again, housebound has its own pleasures. I’d never read a book without your winter days. The crackle of a fire and the pelting rain outside make very good music together. Whip that wind and let it pour! Or whiten the noise and everything else with a blast of cold.

Nobody does snow days better than Eugene. We walk in the middle of the streets, daring cars to compete. We feel like post-industrial anarchists or wide-eyed children, wondering whether there’s a difference.

We love our snowpeople for more than their gender neutrality. We know they’ll outlast whatever blanket lies beneath them, asserting what was against whatever comes next. The here-and-now makes room for there-and-then. We remember best the lessons we learned too late. We’ve taught ourselves to mobilize against frigid nights. Thomas Egan, we remember you — even if we never knew you.

We’re ready for winter, Eugene. Give it to us, cold and hard. But save us from these middling days of nothing in particular.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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Oregon Health Plan’s Future is Suddenly Uncertain

December 2nd, 2016 · No Comments

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Does the Oregon Health Plan have a price on its head? If the incoming administration’s pick for Secretary of Health and Human Services is approved, the OHP may have the boot of Rep. Tom Price on its neck. The Georgia congressman has hated Obamacare since the beginning. He may come to Oregon looking for a refund of the $1.9 billion the feds granted the state in 2012.

Oregon’s reputation for health care reform is unmatched. We chose an emergency room physician as our governor four times. During John Kitzhaber’s eight-year hiatus from the governor’s mansion, he continued thinking deeply about health care issues, building on the reforms he first championed when he was a state senator.

When Barack Obama was swept into the White House in 2009, many expected Kitzhaber to be tapped as some sort of health care czar. Obama had different ideas, and so did the former and future governor.

Where the Bush presidency used so-called policy czars to muscle changes on Capitol Hill, Obama preferred using states as incubators for innovation. The best and highest use of the federal government, Obama reasoned, was to define the metrics for success and provide resources for experimentation. States would then naturally learn from one another.

Once it was clear that Obama would make a priority of health care reform, Kitzhaber launched his campaign for a third term as governor. As a seasoned politician steeped in health care reform, his stature put Oregon at the front of the line. Oregon received nearly $2 billion from the feds to design Coordinated Care Organizations across the state.

Kitzhaber in 2012 called it the “final building block to creating a better model of care, and Oregon is ready to demonstrate how local communities can lead the nation in keeping people healthier over the long term in a more effective way.”

Obama’s White House coined a term for these innovation prizes given to states. “Race to the top” represented a deliberate rebuke to blind pursuit of economic efficiency. Who wants to be at the bottom so badly that they’ll race to get there?

But now that race may be canceled in the middle of the event, rained out by a new president who has his own affinity for czars. Will Oregon have to repay any of its Obamacare innovation funding? It’s too soon to know what will happen. But Oregon had better be ready for the worst.

Kitzhaber has returned to private life, for which he may be feel suddenly grateful. What comes next for the neediest among us could be heart-rending for the first responders.

It’s time to return to first principles. That may help move the conversation forward. Embedded in Obama’s “race to the top” model is a fundamental truth: Not every social problem can be solved by unfettered economics. Capitalism has its limits, and health care is where many of us meet them.

Capitalism posits that supply and demand self-regulate when pricing interference is removed. If supply is limited, the price will rise and demand will fall until a natural equilibrium is reached. But that “invisible hand” achieves no such balance when the demand is for a life-saving drug or dialysis treatments. Life itself is not a commodity in that way. Demand for it is limitless, so pricing must be controlled in other ways.

Price controls are inevitable. So are supply limits. “Death panels” notwithstanding, government cannot provide every drug and every procedure to every patient. Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” fails here, too. Decisions must be made. The best we can hope is for rationing to be rational.

The Oregon Health Plan’s first and most profound innovation was to limit procedures with low success rates or for patients with other complications — including old age.

Rationing is being debated because universal access to health care is not. President Reagan and House Speaker Tip O’Neil settled that issue when they crafted the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) in 1986. Hospitals that accept any federal funds are not allowed to turn away patients.

As local civic leader Terry MacDonald once told me, “Until Americans are willing to step over the dead and dying on their sidewalks, we will always have some version of universal health care.” People go to the emergency room to get the care they need, which may be where physician Kitzhaber first thought, “There’s gotta be a better way.”

Don Kahle ( writes a weekly column for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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